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Asean environment:

Wetlands for disaster Disaster risk reduction, according to ADMER,

resilience means “a framework of elements considered
with possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON MAY 26, and disaster risks to avoid, through prevention
2017 or, to limit through mitigation and preparedness
the adverse impacts of hazards within the broad
context of sustainable development.”
THE 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami originating in
an earthquake in the sea off Sumatra in
Wetlands, on the other hand are among the
Indonesia devastated 12 countries, including
world’s most valuable ecosystems, providing
Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. As an
so may benefits to people. As defense
immediate response, the periodic Asian
fortifications, wetlands, particularly
Wetlands Symposium held in 2005 (in India)
mangroves, proved excellent defenses against
recommended, among others, to “prioritize the
the onslaught of typhoons and tsunamis as
natural coastal defenses through
proven by the earthquake occurrence
greenbelt/coastal ‘bioshield’ development……
mentioned above. Scientists explained that the
In connection therewith, the Sendai Framework
roots of vegetation in Asian mangroves and
for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) identified as
other forest wetlands helped to hold the
one of four priorities the matter of ‘investing in
sediments in place against the impact of strong
disaster risk reduction for resilience’.”
winds, waves and currents. Additionally,
wetlands are the “kidneys of the earth,”
Not to be missed is the Asean Agreement on purifying water and waste from both natural
Disaster Management and Emergency and human sources. As “biological
Response (ADMER), which came into force in supermarkets,” wetlands provide a wide variety
2009 with the intention of providing “effective of flora and fauna. Wetlands act as natural
regional mechanisms to mitigate impacts of dams, absorbing heavy rainfalls, preventing
natural disasters….through concerted national flood downstream; helps shoreline stabilization
efforts and intensified regional cooperation.” and erosion reduction. Wetlands help recharge
groundwater aquifers too. Most important of
Early this year, the Asean Institute of all, wetlands provide livelihood to many
International and Strategic Studies, a people.
consortium of Asean think tanks, concluded Aside from mangroves, wetlands include
that one of the key challenges to Asean is swamps, marshes, mudflats, floodplains,
“adapting to climate change:……Asean needs peatlands, estuaries, rivers, lakes and many
to be prepared for the real possibility that global more generally described as “where water
mitigation efforts are not sufficient. Efforts to meets land.”
adapt to the effects of climate change and
disasters will increasingly demand greater ADMER is replete with provisions which could
coordination and the pooling of resources.” be used by Asean countries in refuting the claim
that while emergency response is almost well
In the light of scientific information that natural attended to from the local to the national
disasters are projected to intensify in Asia, the government level, much remains to be done in
ADMER could be utilized for disaster regard to a) cooperation in developing and
prevention and mitigation purposes even if the putting into effect solutions to reduce disaster
agreement leans heavily towards disaster impacts; b) development of strategies to
preparedness and emergency response, i.e. identify, prevent or reduce disaster risks and
faster movement of relief goods, better losses; c) prevention and mitigation legislation,
utilization of civilian and military response, etc. regulations, policies, plans, programs and
ADMER could serve as the basis for Asean’s strategies; and d) raising public awareness
active role at disaster risk reduction by about disaster prevention and mitigation.
incorporating effective wetlands management
strategies for climate change resilience.

In pursuit of this, Asean countries could very engagement, improvements can be made at a
well incorporate wetlands for disaster risk much faster pace so the region can have a much
reduction and build resilience in their legal needed disaster-resilient system.
agenda. For instance, the strategy of planting
mangrove saplings should be a continuing year-
round activity in the long and extensive
coastlines of countries comprising Asean.
Likewise, massive planting of high-quality and
commercially productive variety of bamboo
could be introduced in riverbanks/river basins
and lakeshores as a technique not only to
withstand environmental disturbances but also
to preserve and rehabilitate freshwater sources
and lakes and provide added source of income
to people.

Take note that Asean is not only about

economic partnership, trade liberalization and
economic integration. It is also about
environmental security. In that regard, Asean’s
environment program, conceived in the early
1980s, has metamorphosed to include an Asean
Working Group on Coastal and Marine

Hosting Asean@50 gives President Duterte a

historic opportunity to influence the future
direction of Asean vis-à-vis disaster risk
reduction, an area where Asean lags behind in
terms of prevention and mitigation projects to
better achieve climate change resiliency.

It should be borne in mind, however, that

building a disaster-resilient Asean needs
partnerships among governments, private
sector, NGOs, LGUs, and other institutions
with clearly defined roles not only in disaster
response but also in disaster prevention and
mitigation. To begin with, a program on the
values and functions of wetlands for disaster
risk reduction and onwards to consolidating
resilience endeavors among Asean countries on
the same track could be embarked on and, in the
process, highlight also the need to scale up
adaptation to climate change. Indeed, Asean-
wide advocacy initiatives about wetlands for
disaster risk reduction would do well to
invigorate efforts in the region to give climate
change resilience the priority that the issue

Hopefully, the recommendation is realized soon

because Asean remains vulnerable to natural
disasters. But through multi-stakeholder

Asean water partnership: The conservation of water and other resources is
somehow evident in irrigation, hydro-power,
great Mekong River navigation, flood control, fisheries, timber
0 floating, recreation and tourism initiatives and
THE Mekong River is the twelfth longest river
It was the United Nations which drew attention
in the world at 4,173 kilometers. The
to the potential for integrated development in
headwaters originate in the Tibetan region of
the lower Mekong basin as early as the 1950s.
China and the river then flows through Yunan
A Mekong Committee was set up by Cambodia,
province in China into five Asean countries:
Laos, Thailand and the then Republic of South
Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and
Vietnam in 1957 “to promote, coordinate,
supervise and control the planning and
investigations of water resource development
The Mekong forms the boundary between Laos projects.”
and Myanmar. It courses through Laos for
approximately 500 km before once again
Political events, however, transpired to dampen
becoming the boundary between Laos and
the committee’s prospects and the change of
Thailand. Then the Mekong passes through the
government in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam
southwest corner of Laos and flows through the
during the mid-1970s cast doubt on the
heart of Cambodia where a very unique
committee’s future. By 1991, reactivation of the
physical feature exists, the Tonle River and the
Mekong Committee began.
Tonle Sap Lake. Then it flows into Vietnam and
empties out through the Mekong Delta of
Vietnam into the South China Sea. Circumstances, however, had changed
considerably since the mid-1970s in many
ways: a) although the region seemed to be
The Mekong River basin covers 795 km. (A
entering a new era of peace in the 1990s, the
water basin, also known as a catchment basin,
governments were no longer as closely allied to
is a geographical and hydrological unit
each other as they were before the mid-1970s;
consisting of a main river and all the territories
b) the viability of large mainstream dams, the
between the water source, the spring and the
quest for joint developments under the original
mouth of the river).
Mekong Committee was under question due to
the potential environmental and social impacts;
The tremendous natural resources of the c) China was in the process of implementing a
Mekong Basin have long been recognized. The large-scale hydropower development program
tropical climate of the region along with the in the upper reaches of the Mekong River which
abundance of water during the wet season could significantly alter the downstream flow
supports an extremely productive and diverse regimes and hence, there was a need to bring
aquatic ecosystem with numerous ecologically China into a more active cooperation
important wetlands. In addition, the basin states framework (Far Eastern Economic Review,
rely upon the natural productivity of the basin’s 1992).
fisheries to help meet the subsistence needs of
many of the approximately 60 million residents
Basin nations’ agreement
of the Mekong basin.
In 1995, the Agreement on Cooperation for the
Sustainable Development of the Mekong River
Basin was signed by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand
and Vietnam and established the Mekong River
Common ground Commission. The philosophy of the agreement
While the interest of each country is different is “to improve the livelihood of 60 million
and there are diverse upstream and downstream people living in the Lower Mekong River
issues, the Lower Mekong countries have found Basin. China and Myanmar which are part of
a common ground on which to cooperate in the Mekong River Basin have not signed the
addressing issues from a basin point of view. agreement but were designated Asean
Cooperation in all fields of sustainable “dialogue partners” in 1996 and have
development, utilization, management

participated in various Mekong River-related

A close look at the 1995 agreement reveals that

while signatory countries agreed to “cooperate
in maintaining minimum flow levels of no less
than the acceptable monthly minimum flow
rates during each month of the dry season,” the
same agreement does not require
consent/consensus/agreement of the riparians
for national projects which may affect the river
flow levels. The prior legal agreement in place
required the consent/concurrence of all riparian
countries for any national project that involved
the Mekong River. Moreover, the agreement is
silent about distribution of water to the member
states although basic principles to be applied in
developing rules for water distribution are set
forth in the agreement.

After sixty 60 years of Asean riparian country

cooperation in the utilization of the Great
Mekong River, some questions surfaced that
needed to be attended to: a) What types of
activities are or should be forbidden within the
shared Mekong River Basin?; b) Is it possible
to harmonize national laws of the riparian
countries to regulate the use of the shared
basin?; c) What does it really mean to manage
the Mekong River Basin in an integrated
manner?; d) What rights and obligations do
upstream and downstream states have?; e) How
can environmental flows be effectively
regulated within the shared Mekong River

Above all, what approach should be taken if and

when the water flow from the Mekong River’s
source markedly lessened or diminished
because of the gigantic dam projects of China
to divert the flow for its own use to open up
agricultural areas to attain food security for its
overgrown population?

The author contributed to the evolution and

progressive realization of environmental law.

Strategy for disaster risk to make them more resilient and intact for the
onslaught of another natural calamity.
Like in other areas of environmental
management, the institutional arrangement to
NOVEMBER 18, 2013
cope with natural disasters involve not just one
Climate change –induced weather disasters
government agency like the Department of
have quadrupled during the last few years. The
Social Welfare and Development but many
2011 horrifying earthquake and tsunami in
other environment-related agencies such as
Japan is one such weather disaster. The 2013
those on local governments, health, education,
typhoon Yolanda accompanied by the terrifying
agriculture, police, public works, etc. The
storm surge in the Philippines is another.
Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction
and Management Council (NDRRMC) follows
Tropical storms, extended drought, harder that direction through effective inter-agency
monsoon rains, devastating floods, unexpected linkages and coordination with regional and
landslides and earthquakes are more common local governments for disaster remediation
now in densely populated Asia where people operations.
are the most endangered when natural
calamities strike. The annual cyclones in
Global level
Bangladesh, the uncommon cyclone occurrence
At the international level, the UN has an
in Myanmar in 2008 as well as the destruction
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
brought by typhoons Ondoy, Sendong, and
which aims to guide and coordinate the efforts
Pablo in the Philippines drew attention to these
of a wide range of partners to achieve
countries’ efforts at reducing disaster risks in
substantive reduction in disaster losses and
managed ways.
build resilient nations and communities as an
essential condition for sustainable
Disaster risk reduction (DRR) systems are now development. The United Nations International
in place in Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) is
Philippines with the support of international the secretariat of the ISDR system and
organizations like the Red Cross and the Save comprises numerous organizations, states,
the Children and their respective governments. NGOs, financial institutions, technical bodies
DRR refers to all activities by local and civil society which work together and share
communities, families, governments and NGOs information to reduce disaster risks.
that help reduce in advance the effects of
natural disasters. The objective is to cover all
It also serves as the focal point for the
risks including the effects of climate change.
implementation of the Hyogo Framework for
Action, a ten-year plan of action adopted in
Disaster risk reduction system 2005 by 168 governments to protect lives and
The main feature of a disaster risk reduction livelihoods against disasters.
system is a disaster plan and prevention
program in endangered towns and villages. It
With the prominence of the field of
incorporates standardized warning signals,
environmental law during the last four decades,
different flags for use before and during
the enactment of a legislation on disaster risk
disasters, identification of emergency shelters,
reduction and management is encouraged. One
evacuation procedures, emergency food stocks
such is the 2010 Philippine Disaster Risk
(and replenishment), utensils for immediate use
Reduction and Management Act (R.A. 10121).
like cooking stoves, water supply, provision of
An action plan and guidelines to define the
sanitary facilities and others.
respective roles and responsibilities of
government agencies, schools, NGOs and other
groups is in place. The challenge is to translate
into effective local community action to save
Experience with disaster emergency lives and reduce disaster risks and economic
management gave way to the principle of “build losses. Above all, a safety culture in times of
back better” which means that damaged disasters and emergencies should be established
structures are not simply replaced but improved

so that people in danger areas will be well
informed and motivated to consciously
integrate the risks in their day-to-day living.

Indeed, the success of any disaster plan and

prevention program depends on the cooperation
of the local people exposed to danger. Nobody
is more familiar with the immediate
environment than the local inhabitants
themselves who are also best situated to
overcome the risks that accompany weather
disasters aided by disaster emergency
awareness and preparedness strategies and

(Mr. Tolentino is a Filipino pioneer in the field

of environmental law and served as
environmental law consultant to UNEP. He
was Philippine Ambassador to Papua New
Guinea and Qatar).

Asean: Better, faster disaster governments for which reason bilateral and
trilateral arrangements may be more effective.
Aware of the need for greater cooperation in
humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,
DURING the past three decades, the frequency Thailand and Korea sponsored a Southeast
of natural disasters has increased globally but Asian Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise
the worst increase has been in the Asia-Pacific in Thailand while Brunei Darussalam and
region. Be that as it may, advances in the Singapore co-hosted in 2013 a combined
science of disaster risk management point out military medicine/humanitarian assistance and
that there are no true natural disasters. Many disaster relief exercise with all ten Asean
natural hazards are accelerated by human members involved. Additional region-wide
activity and no matter how “natural” the hazard, exercises were held in Thailand in 2014.
it is human exposure, vulnerability, resilience Singapore, on the other hand, offered to the
and preparedness that define whether a given Armed Forces of the Philippines its newly
event results merely in a rainy day or natural launched Changi Regional Humanitarian
catastrophe. In short, human behavior can be Assistance and Disaster Relief Co-ordination
regulated unlike the weather. Center to organize multi-national military
intervention in response to Typhoon Ruby
Studies of experiences about regulatory (Hagupit) which made landfall in Eastern
frameworks for reducing disaster risks, Samar on 6 December 2014 but was
responding to disasters and recovering from downgraded into a tropical storm soon after its
them are still in their infancy. Yet states are landfall.
increasingly turning to legal instruments at the
national, regional and international levels to Take note that while defense of sovereignty is
fight disasters. Are those legal instruments in the primary responsibility of the military, the
place meeting their potential to increase requirement to respond to floods, earthquakes,
cooperation on disaster risk management and tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc. is likely to
humanitarian response ? remain a secondary priority but one,
nonetheless, which is likely to increasingly
The Asean Agreement on Disaster influence the modernization drive of the Asean
Management and Emergency Response countries’ military over the next decades.
(ADMER) signed and ratified by all ten
member states is one such legal instrument. In that connection, Singapore procured large
Agreed on as an aftermath of the 2004 Great multipurpose amphibious ships in 2014.
Tsunami which hit, among others, the coastal Similar efforts at modernization are being
zones of Indonesia and Thailand resulting in exerted by Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar
much loss of life and property, ADMER was and Vietnam even if, admittedly, security in the
already in effect (29 December 2009) when one increasing territorial disputes is the prime
of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, mover for the heightened emphasis on the
Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), hit the Visayas in militaries’ capacity and capability in the region.
the Philippines.
To fulfill the military requirements related to
Some of the militaries of the Southeast Asian humanitarian search/rescue and relief
countries were forced to respond to the calamity operations, procurement targets of Asean
but their voluntary efforts highlighted military countries like multi-role helicopters and
operational shortcomings in the region. In many transport aircrafts would not require new
ways, the response was mainly on a national designs to fulfill the militaries’ secondary role.
basis. Some transport aircraft and ships were What is necessary is inter-operability of joint
sent but there was not enough multinational and multi-national missions with greater
cooperation. Analysts trace the situation to the command-and-control capabilities among
lack of trust and confidence between many

Asean’s military considering the vastness of the

In the light of scientific information that natural

disasters are projected to intensify in the Asia-
Pacific region in the future, the Asean
Agreement on Disaster Management and
Emergency Response mentioned above could
serve the Asean countries well if utilized
effectively and cohesively. As an agreement on
disaster preparedness, emergency response and
rehabilitation, it is about expedited customs and
immigration clearance; faster movement of
relief goods, tools and personnel (included are
provision of food, water sanitation facilities and
temporary shelters); setting up of an Asean
disaster relief fund; better utilization of civilian
and military personnel as well as stronger
simulation exercises to test emergency

Actually, an Asean Co-ordinating Centre for

Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster
Management (AHA) is functioning in Jakarta to
facilitate cross border movement of relief
efforts and coordination among member
countries in joint emergency response.

An ADMER evaluation report in 2013 noted

that many civil society organizations are
increasingly involved in advocacy work around
disaster management laws in countries such as
Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand and the

However, there is a need to complement legal

instruments with strong research which could
help boost our understanding of the
complexities underlying risk and disaster relief
at all levels.

Ambassador Amado Tolentino, Jr. is an

independent consultant and professor of
environmental law at San Beda Alabang School
of Law.

Environmental refugees: and more destructive further damaging the
habitability of coastal areas. Extensive river
Quickly spreading diversions will markedly lessen the amount of
0 freshwater discharged into coastal areas while
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON JUNE 15, higher sea levels will increase saltwater
2015 intrusion thus reducing mangrove forest cover
and disrupting major fisheries within fragile
Refugees are people who seek asylum for fear ecosystems. Endangered places that may cease
of political, racial or religious persecution or to exist include, among others, Tuvalu, Kiribati
people who leave their homes because of war or and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific,
civil strife. This traditional notion of refugees, Maldives in the Indian Ocean as well as the
however, leave out the new, growing and touristic string of emerald islands and islets in
quickly spreading phenomenon of the Caribbean prompting the formation of an
environmental refugees triggered by natural association of small island states working
calamities like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic towards solutions to their plight to counter sea
eruptions, landslides resulting to forced level rise before the United Nations.
displacement of people. (When people seek
refuge within their own countries as
environmental refugees, they are commonly
referred to as internally displaced persons). Poverty and inadequate development policies
along with rapid population growth are the
Recent scientific studies show that rising seas roots of environmental degradation in the
will supplant encroaching desserts and other developing world. Present environmental
forms of land degradation as the major threat to refugees may already be the biggest single
habitability of many places this century. The group of displaced persons. By the middle of
evacuation of 1,400 residents of Papua New this century, people forced to leave their homes
Guinea’s Carteret Islands (the world’s first and places of livelihood because of flooding,
climate change refugees according to the UN) desertification, toxic pollution, sea level rise or
due to rising sea levels offers a sobering vision other environmental disruptions may even
of the future for coastal populations. constitute the largest in number among those
displaced by all other means.
Global warming brought about by excessive
fossil fuel use is reported to result to thermal Improvement in general environmental
expansion of the oceans and melting of the practices particularly agricultural methods,
icecaps. A one meter increase in sea level will including soil conservation, which maintains
displace millions of people in the delta regions the capability of ecosystems to support life
of the Nile and Ganges rivers, further known in environmental science as ‘carrying
compounding land scarcity in Egypt and capacity’ will help prevent migration of people.
Bangladesh. To think that world population is Above all, rapid population growth must be
projected to increase by 90 million annually all managed particularly in places most vulnerable
of them in need of food, water and shelter. In to ecological disasters.
fact, as the root causes of the on-going
Southeast Asian migrant crisis unravel, it would *An environmental law pioneer, Ambassador
not be surprising if it turns out in the UNHCR Amado Tolentino was a Visiting Fellow at
backed Bangkok Special Meeting on Irregular Hawaii’s East-West Center.
Migration in the Indian Ocean of concerned
countries and other probes being carried out
that some of those ‘boat people’ are in reality
environmental refugees from Bangladesh and
Myanmar aiming for Thailand, Malaysia and

The combined effects of warmer climates and

higher seas will make typhoons more frequent

Sovereignty vis-a-vis environmental utilization and groundwater as part of the global
security commons. And, when the environmental harm
0 or interference occurs within national
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON JUNE 23, boundaries, they give rise to internally
2013 displaced persons as what happened to victims
The benefit of a changing approach to the of water conflicts or of natural disasters like
concept of sovereignty over natural resources earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. Ultimately,
extends to environmental or ecological security their displacement bring them across national
as it relates to facilitating conflict resolution to boundaries as environmental refugees.
prevent or resolve armed conflict or hostilities
or threats therefrom between and among States. Ecological security must be recognized as an
inseparable component of the concept of
In this, the due regard principle in customary sovereignty to attain international security.
law comes to the fore. Nature is civilian in States must recognize their joint responsibility
character but it is easy to transform civilian to for the protection of the transnational
military objective. An example is the reported environment. Opportunities for the shift of
pollution of the Danube River during the political attention and natural resources from
Kosovo war resulting from alleged bombing of the military domain to the environmental
industrial facilities. domain should be pursued, i.e. strengthening
confidence through cooperation in
From time to time, military conflicts over water environmental and other non-military areas.
rights was a national security issue between
India and Pakistan over the Indus; Ethiopia and The issue of environmental security occurs
Egypt over the Nile; Turkey and Syria over the whenever sovereignty issue pose a threat like
Euphrates; Botswana and Namibia over potential disputes over exploitation of natural
Okavango; Israel and Palestine over the Jordan resources. Case in point is the rich in marine
River. and mineral resources but object of overlapping
ownership claims of the Spratly islands in the
Water in those areas cross political boundaries West Philippine Sea among the Philippines,
with the concomitant boundary issue. The Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam
situation, however, creates a natural and Taiwan where more arguments favor
interdependence between the States in sharing cooperation to preserve/conserve the ecological
the water resource drawing people to work wealth of the area than tackling head-on the
together on the water resource availability territorial sovereignty issue. Apart from the
aspect even when countries were officially at long-standing suggestion for an Asean Area of
war. Cooperation in the Spratlys, there are
possibilities for the provision of internationally
protected area status in the area through
multilateral cooperative options available.
In reality, environmental security problems are
solved not only within the confines of national Indeed, the notion of ecogeographical regimes
boundaries. Often, they involve transborder is a useful one in demarcating areas within
areas, e.g. transboundary deep or shallow which natural resources can be taken to be
underground aquifers, international rivers, relatively homogenous and, consequently, the
other shared watercourses. Actually, concept of sovereignty duly re-adjusted. The
governance of groundwater remains weak, International Commission for the Protection of
perhaps partly because of reliance on the old the Rhine, the two international commissions
concept of sovereignty. for the environmental protection and
sustainable utilization of the Baltic Sea, and the
There are no standards for developing comparable mechanism for cooperation among
boundaries for groundwater systems rendering most of the littoral states are examples of this.
effective governance problematic. Governance In short, there is a continuing need for
models are moving towards public-private international and inter-regional cooperation
partnership for environmental management and that must be able to transcend the rights of

sovereignty now vested in States. The principle
of shared responsibility for the protection of the
environment must be fully accepted.

It is also a fact that politico-military and

environmental security are linked in terms of
opportunity costs. Political attention and
material resources spent in the military sector
could be used to strengthen environmental
security. A revised concept of sovereignty is an
opportunity to shift attention and resources
from the military sector to the environment
sector. It could further elaboration of
confidence and security building measures in
both the military and civilian sectors by the
adoption of less offensive military postures in
defense of the environment. Hopefully, after the
most recent posturings, the demilitarized zone
(DMZ) between North and South Korea would
still be headed towards this direction via the
proposal to make the area an international peace
and nature park for, among others, the
preservation of biodiversity found therein.

Environmental security should be equitable for

all States, cultures and generations.
Environmental conscience, search for common
gains, and multilateral cooperation should
replace attitudes and policies of confrontation
with the insurance of recognition of the concept
of sovereignty over natural resources. The
removal of confrontation between States is an
important precondition for the removal of
confrontation between humankind and the
natural environment considering the
fundamental necessity of securing the long-
term availability of natural resources.

The pursuit of environmental security could

become a major agent of change in international
affairs, promoting an international order more
compatible with human needs. Common
sovereignty over natural resources should be
recognized and given priority in the resolution
of conflicts and hostilities among States.

*The author was Philippine Ambassador to

Papua New Guinea and Qatar; Delegate to the
1971 Constitutional Convention; and first
Director, Environmental Management

Asean environmental outbreaks, and even death from rising
temperatures; (d) energy production and
security concerns transportation disruptions of varying lengths
1 and magnitudes; (e) increased demand for
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON OCTOBER disaster and humanitarian reliefs and limited
3, 2015 environment for military operations, e.g.
The effects of extreme weather events caused military installations near coastlines threatened
by climate change are now felt all over the by heavy rains in stormy situations and coastal
world – warmer temperature causing erosion; (f) intensified heat waves presenting
desertification and inadequate food supply; low challenges to outdoor training and personnel
lying areas inundated by rising seas; drought efficiency.
sparked conflicts over water supply as
downriver inhabitants safeguard their share. As
a further consequence, food producing areas
become uninhabitable leading to disease, mass
Environmental disasters could even be taken
migration and conflict. Worst of all, the scarcity
advantage of for terrorism. Indeed, the impacts
of oil and mineral resources raises tensions
of global warming are becoming ever more
between powers that import those commodities.
evident and humankind must rise to the
All these could undermine a country’s capacity
to carry out its key function of providing
security to its people.
In the light of security concerns brought about
by global warming, what is the role of Asean
The security implications of the earth’s
militaries in a resource-stressed environment
environmental degradation are forcing
due to climate disruption? Take note that
governments and militaries to review their
energy supply and other imported resources by
long-term defense strategies. Defense planning
Asean countries are overly dependent on
is increasingly being shaped by climate and
sealanes, the Strait of Malacca in particular,
resource considerations.
between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
That alone is enough to have Asean countries
Asean countries have experienced super re-examine and re-think their maritime
typhoons and super droughts; storm surges and priorities to have resource protection a core
tsunamis which destroyed coastal function of its navies.
infrastructures and properties including
flooding of roads, airports, military camps and
The greater need, however, is for strengthening
destroyed hospitals and health centers which
the Asean military capabilities in anticipation of
brought about displaced people and population
impending climate wars. This means more
migration. (Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
soldiers with different training and weapons
are not influenced by the weather). The latest
defense and security systems designed to
occurrence was the horrendous floods brought
operate effectively across the full range of
about by a heavy monsoon season in Myanmar
foreseeable future environments altered by a
which deluged 12 out of the country’s 14
warmer climate – resource war (oil and
regions. Rice growing areas were very much
minerals), water wars (diminished water for
affected as flood water drains through the vast
agriculture and water supply shortage for
Irrawaddy river delta. The army helped the
domestic use) and migratory wars.
residents cope with the situation as the
government embraced foreign assistance.
With climate change, the demand for rapid
military deployments in response and recovery
Security implications of severe climate change
efforts in disastrous environmental
in the Asean countries include, but is not
circumstances is likely to increase too and this
limited to, (a) huge movements of people from
is a good time for Asean to plan out to protect
uninhabitable areas; (b) conflicts over basic
its future security, i.e. improving infrastructures
resources like water and food exacerbating
including military installations located in or
water scarcity and increase in food costs and
near coastlines taking into account advances in
food shortage; (c) greater incidence of
engineering design, techniques and
malnutrition, risks of infectious disease

technologies. After all, it is better to work with
nature rather than against it.

Definitely, strategies like Asean military to

military cooperation and enhanced
collaboration that boost capability and
effectiveness will play an increasingly
significant role in helping its most vulnerable
members prepare as best they can for a changed
warmer world. Whatever the result will be,
humankind must adapt to global warming.

(Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as

Coordinator, Asean Nature Conservation
(now Asean Group on Nature Conservation
and Biodiversity).

Asean: Changed security acquired from Spain while heavy landing craft
vessels will be acquired from Australia.
environment Meanwhile, as Vietnam’s economy improves
1 tremendously, reforms to further
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON professionalize the Vietnam People’s Army are
DECEMBER 18, 2015 under way. Its procurements include, among
NEW thinking about defense and security others, fighter aircrafts, submarines, coastal
environment during the last few years pervades radar system, maritime patrol helicopters and
countries around the world. This was brought fast patrol vessels for the Vietnam Coast Guard.
about by, to mention a few, the emergence of a
terrorist quasi-state in the Middle East; home-
grown terrorist attacks prompting governments
to be on extreme alert; mass immigration to
Brunei Darrusalam’s off-shore patrol vessels
Europe; the proliferation of advanced defense
from Germany considerably enhanced its naval
technologies; internal displacement of people
operational capabilities. To improve training,
due to armed conflicts; the phenomenon of
its Navy is building a center of excellence for
environmental refugees including climate
seamanship warfare, weapons handling,
migrants as a consequence of natural
firefighting and damage control,
disasters; popularity of cyber warfare, which
communications and engineering training.
gave way to various levels of internal
uncertainty and a new perception about
security concerns. Indonesia, on the other hand, identified its need
for a complementary submarine fleet that can
fill in the gaps of their new ocean-going
In the Asean region, tension prevails as rivals
submarines. Note that Indonesia maintains a
jostle over territories in the West Philippine Sea
submarine base in Sulawesi Island.
which has enormous geo-strategic and
economic significance. This climate of conflict
has security implications which forced Malaysia, which established its own
governments to re-think their long-term Malaysian Maritime
defense strategies. In fact, some analysts opined
that defense planning is increasingly being Enforcement Agency in 2005, took delivery of
shaped by climate and resource considerations its first Scorpene submarines in 2009 while
too. Take note that majority of the Asean Thailand, the first to possess Southeast Asia’s
countries are vulnerable to extreme climate aircraft carrier has been exploring submarine
disturbances due to global warming and disaster procurement.
relief had come to be accepted as the military’s
secondary role. The rapid expansion of Myanmar’s Navy
backed up by an ambitious program of
The changed defense and security environment indigenous shipbuilding is well noted in the
in the Asean countries has led to ‘procurement region. Myanmar’s military or Tatmadaw,
drives’to ensure stability. Singapore highlights however, was drawn into its largest and
its island defense capabilities centered on costliest military campaign against insurgents
automation and mobility enhancements. The in the Kokang region of northeaster Shan State.
Singapore Armed Forces recently acquired The Kokang campaign marked the first time the
protected mobility vehicles which enhances Tatmadaw undertook combined arms
ballistic protection for troops and incorporates operations involving mechanized infantry,
a host of safety measures. Earlier, the country artillery, armor and air power under combat
significantly boosted its sea power by conditions.
commissioning six new frigates.
Those acquisitions of military hardware were
The Philippines, as part of its long awaited made prior to Washington’s announcement of a
military modernization program, recently US $250 million plan to bolster naval
received new aircrafts including jet fighters and capabilities of the Philippines, Indonesia,
helicopters from South Korea. Medium lift Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan and before
transport and surveillance aircrafts were also Singapore agreed to the first deployment in the

city state of a US P8Poseidon spy plane, the
most advance surveillance aircraft of the US,
and long before the arrival in Subic Bay of USS
Tucson, a high endurance submarine with
advanced stealth capabilities.

A rising China turning closer to Russia with US

as Pacific hegemon are obviously contributory
to the changed defense and security
environment in the countries of Southeast Asia.

Be that as it may, the most pressing priority for

Asean countries in the changed security
environment is to improve their intelligence-
gathering capabilities. Procurement of
munitions alone would not suffice to meet the
countries’ security needs. There ought to have
improvement in the region’s intelligence
sharing and coordinating capabilities. More
than any other time, the new era of “intel-
centric” warfare using innovative information,
communications and computer technologies
demands the ability to assess, analyze and
decisively act in an emerging situation of
critical importance. In short, military
equipment and weapons advantage should be
backed by an effective intelligence capability.

Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as a

member of the Experts Group on
Environmental Law of the World Commission
on Environment and Development. He lectures
at San Beda Alabang School of Law.

Asean: Defense evolves in Sea drills
With the acquisition of modern military
weapons and equipment, naval exercises
between and among Asean countries
significantly increased, too. These are exercises
MEDIA campaigns by the global defense
designed to improve professionalism, develop
industry accelerated during the last few years.
exchange experiences and draw lessons from
Military defense technology
fellow navies. The activities evolved out of the
exhibition/exposition with seminars,
Indonesia-Singapore, Malaysia-Singapore, and
conferences and free demonstrations of the
Malaysia-Thailand bilateral naval exercise
latest in arms capability increased in number
agreements. In addition, some Asean countries
and frequency. Among Asean countries,
maintain defense engagement activities with
Singapore and Indonesia are known to have
the US (US-Philippines “Balikatan”), Australia
hosted such events.
and New Zealand. Of late, “Balikatan”
(Shoulder-to-Shoulder) was not only about
Defense procurement drives maritime security but humanitarian assistance
and disaster response as well.
Easily noticeable are the Asean countries’
almost simultaneous procurement drives to To those military exercises should be
ensure maritime security. Under the military mentioned the fact that China, with claims to
upgrade and modernization program of former most of the South China Sea, does routine sea
President Aquino, the Philippines acquired drills in the area with the most recent one
patrol frigates, fast transport and support described as featuring air control operations
vessels, helicopters and fighter jets. BRP with live missiles. China and Malaysia had a
Tarlac, launched in early 2016, is the first of joined military exercise in the same way that the
two landing platform dock style vessels for the US also had its naval engagement activity in
Philippine Navy. Indonesia is constructing a Vietnam. Japan is into joint military exercises
submarine base on Sulawesi Island and plans to with the US and the Philippines.
buy Russian-made diesel electric submarines as
well as an amphibious jet-powered aircraft with
China vis-à-vis Asean
particular ability in firefighting and coastal
search and rescue.
As tension mounts in the region, reports say
China uses fishing fleets with armed escorts to
Singapore, which has the region’s only
bolster its maritime claims and even trains
submarine rescue capacity, boosted its sea
Chinese fishermen militarily for readiness in
power with the delivery of Independence, the
case of checks and intercepts by coast guards
lead ship of its Navy’s Littoral Mission Vessel
and navies of claimant countries in the disputed
program, an effort aimed at developing the
South China Sea
country’s latest and most advanced surface
warfare platforms. Malaysia received its first
Scorpene submarines while Thailand, the first To deter China and to reassure its allies, the US
to possess Southeast Asia’s aircraft carrier, undertook last month drills in the Philippine
purchased a Saab Grippen fighter aircraft waters “close to the disputed waters,” making
capable of tactical data links. use of its awesome USS John Stennis and USS
Ronald Reagan. While at sea, the strike gap
conducted maritime surveillance, defensive or
combat training, long-range strikes,
coordinated maneuvers, and other exercises.
The arrival in Brunei Darussalam of German-
The US Navy explained, “As a Pacific nation
made offshore patrol vessels considerably
and Pacific leader, the US has a national interest
enhanced its Navy’s operational capabilities.
in maintaining security … peaceful resolution
Vietnam’s procurements include fighter
of disputes … adherence to freedom of
aircrafts, submarines, coastal radar system,
navigation and over-flight throughout the
maritime patrol helicopters, and fast patrol
shared domains.”
vessels for the Vietnam Coast Guard.

Interestingly, the China Shipbuilding Corp. resource considerations. Take note that
proposed the construction of an “Underwater majority of Asean countries are vulnerable to
Great Wall” consisting of a network of ship and extreme climate disturbances due to global
sub-surface sensors that could significantly warming and disaster relief, which had come to
erode the undersea warfare advantage held by be accepted as the military’s secondary role.
the US. Specific components of the surveillance
system will include underwater security The most pressing priority for Asean countries
equipment as well as marine oil and gas in the changed security environment is to
exploration devices. improve their intelligence-gathering
capabilities. Procurement of munitions alone
Asean’s united front toward China? would not suffice. There ought to have
improvement in the region’s intelligence
So far, as a regional bloc, Asean has not sharing and coordinating capabilities. The era
presented a united front toward China on the of computer technologies demands the ability to
South China Sea issue. While the Philippines assess, analyze and decisively act in an
and Vietnam have come into direct emerging situation of critical importance. In
confrontation with China, the Mekong River short, military equipment and weapons should
riparian countries Laos and Cambodia prefer to be backed up by an effective intelligence
side with China. Indonesia and Singapore have capability.
been a bit outspoken compared to Malaysia,
Thailand and Brunei Darussalam, which chose Asean environmental security concerns
cautiously to take the middle stand. This
situation enabled China to expand its sway over Apart from security concerns as mentioned
much of the South China Sea despite above, the effects of extreme weather events
overlapping claims. Add to that the “Asean caused by climate change are more evident in
way” of non-interference into their respective Asean countries. Security implications of
internal affairs. severe climate change in the region include but
not limited to: (1) huge movements of people
The expectation was Asean would make a clear from areas of natural disasters and internal
joint statement after the promulgation of the armed fights; (2) conflicts over basic resources
Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision in like water and food, exacerbating water scarcity
the case brought by the Philippines against and increasing food costs and food shortage; (3)
China. None is in the offing. Perhaps, it will not greater incidence of malnutrition, risks of
make a joint statement at all as it seems the infectious diseases outbreaks; (4) increased
arbitration decision even further raised regional demand for disaster and humanitarian relief;
tensions undermining the Asean objective of and (5) intensified heat waves presenting
regional integration. challenges to the military’s outdoor training and
personnel efficiency.
Asean’s changed security environment
In the light of security concerns brought about
There is now a new perception about security by global warming, what is the role of Asean
concerns in the Asean due to the proliferation militaries in a resource stressed environment
of advanced defense technologies, recent due to climate disruption? For one, energy
terrorist attacks around the world, the supply and other imported resources by Asean
phenomenon of environmental refugees as a countries are overly dependent on sea lanes,
consequence of natural disasters, to mention a specifically the Strait of Malacca straddling
few. In connection therewith, the security Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. That alone
implications of overlapping claims over parts of is enough to have Asean countries reexamine
the South China Sea have forced Asean their maritime priorities to have resource
governments to rethink their long-term defense protection a core function of their navies.
With climate change, the demand for rapid and
Be that as it may, defense planning these days coordinated military deployment in response
is increasingly being shaped by climate and and recovery efforts in disastrous

environmental circumstances is likely to Defense preparations by Asean countries on
increase, and this is a good time for Asean to account of the South China Sea issue will not
plan out and protect its future security, i.e., be put to naught, considering the worldwide
improving infrastructures, including military acceptance of the military’s secondary role—
installations located in or near coastlines— humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
taking into account advances in engineering There is much room in AADMER’s identified
design techniques and technologies. Indeed, it priorities like environmental emergencies, early
is better to work with nature rather than against warning and monitoring and climate change
it. adaptation. Specifically, the Asean military
would be most useful in enhancing disaster
‘Asean Agreement on Disaster preparedness for effective response and to
Management and Emergency Response’ “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation
and reconstruction.
Despite procurement drives and sea drills,
Asean countries are hopeful the increased Asean’s defense should shape or reshape itself
tensions resulting from the arbitral decision to meet the challenges in and opportunities for
could be successfully managed to avoid actual humanitarian assistance vis-à-vis the region’s
armed conflict. Emerging lately from Asean new security and environmental concerns. After
leaderships are possibilities for dialogue push, all, Asean is also about convergence in
reduction of threats and even the practicality of cooperation and conflict as well as disastrous
joint management for equitable utilization of weather events.
the resources found in the disputed parts of
South China Sea, i.e., minerals, fisheries, etc. The author is a professor, diplomat and pioneer
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio suggests in the field of environmental law. He writes
declaration of the disputed waters as an independently, notably about Asean
international marine park and protected area. environmental law.

The year 2009 saw the enactment of the Asean

Agreement on Disaster Management and
Emergency Response (AADMER), with the
objective to “… provide effective mechanisms
to achieve substantial reduction of disaster
losses in lives and in the social, economic and
environmental assets … and to respond to
disaster emergencies through concerted
national efforts and intensified regional and
international cooperation.” Pursuant thereto, an
Asean Coordinating Center for Humanitarian
Assistance (AHA) on disaster management was
set up in Jakarta to assist Asean member states
in preparing for and responding to disasters.

The vulnerability of Asean countries to natural

disasters has been extensively discussed in
various forums and documented scientifically.
In fact, Asean countries already experienced
horrendous floods brought about by heavy
monsoon season, super typhoons, storm surges
and tsunamis, which resulted in loss of lives and
damaged infrastructures and properties; and,
although not influenced by climate change,
earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which gave
way to internally displaced people.

Maritime convulsions in the At the recently concluded Summit of Heads of
States held in Malaysia, Asean leaders
‘Asean’ seas expressed their concern at China’s massive
0 reclamation in the Spratlys which “has eroded
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON MAY 25, trust and confidence and may undermine,
2015 peace, security and stability in the South China
“The sea belongs to nobody -but interests Sea.” Asean foreign ministers were instructed
clash over its uses.” to urgently address the matter constructively via
frameworks “such as Asean-China relations.”
AT no other time in history do some Asean
countries face several maritime challenges than The Asean Chairman’s statement also (ii)
during this second decade of the 21st century. reasserted “the importance of freedom of
All because of the uses of the South China navigation in and over-flight in the South China
(West Philippine) Sea and its resources – major (West Philippine) Sea; (ii) called for the full
shipping routes, important fishing grounds and implementation of the Declaration of the
abundant oil and gas reserves. But over and Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea;” and
above those maritime pursuits is the question of (iii) demanded that the parties concerned should
territorial (land, water and air space) ownership resolve their differences in accordance with
as developed in law. international law including the Law of the Sea
“The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is
part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area The rising tension in the disputed waters
from Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait prompted the US to warn against militarization
of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square of the territorial disputes. Lately, satellite
kilometers.” Center of dispute is the Spratly imagery showed the extensive reclamation
Islands area. China’s unilaterally declared activities for a land mass that could support an
“nine-dash line” ownership of 90% of the South airstrip, apron, harbor, etc. which China defined
China (West Philippine) Sea overlaps with the as being within its “sovereign” territory. The
competing claims of some Asean countries – US navy sent a littoral combat ship on its first
Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines patrol and used a P8-A Poseidon, the most
and Vietnam. Non-Asean claimant is Taiwan. advanced surveillance aircraft in the US
Similarly claimed by China is Natuna Islands at arsenal, over the contested area.
the southern tip of the South China (West
Philippine) Sea which is within Indonesia’s
Prior to this development, the US had its 6th
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and sits on
Naval Engagement Activity in Vietnam.
Indonesia’s maritime borders with Brunei
Likewise, the Philippines and US militaries
Darussalam, Malaysia and Vietnam. Likewise,
recently held its largest “Balikatan” exercises in
China’s recent announcement of a fishing ban
years with nearly 12,000 troops participating
to all fishing activities in Hoang Sa (Paracel)
(double the number that participated in 2014).
archipelago was strongly objected to by
Vietnam. Vietnam says it has sufficient legal
and historical foundations testifying to its Coincidentally, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly,a
sovereignty over Hoang Sa and the sovereign leading provider of defense and security insight
rights and jurisdiction over its waters, EEZ and and information, noted that the rest of the Asean
continental shelf in line with the UN Law of the countries are modernizing their respective
Sea. navies as part of a wider Southeast Asian trend
towards greater maritime capabilities.
Singapore has the most potent military in
Scarborough Shoal which is well within the
Southeast Asia. Myanmar, on the other hand,
Philippine EEZ is contested too. (Japan is into
embarked on an ambitious program of
a bitter territorial dispute with China over the
indigenous shipbuilding backed up by naval
Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea).
exercises on its own.

The territorial sovereignty issue in the South

China (West Philippine) Sea had become an

external sovereignty or regional security issue BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON MAY 9,
with environmental security threats revolving 2014
around exploitation of natural resources The geography of Asean as a regional grouping
alongside strategic ones, i.e. potential military of nations is noticeably maritime. For
uses of the islands. archipelagos i.e., Indonesia and the Philippines,
the sea is an integral component of their
In all these maritime rivalries, ecological respective national profile. Brunei Darussalam,
security ought to be recognized as an Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam
inseparable component of the concept of depend to a great extent on the sea for their
sovereignty to attain regional security. trade interests. Even the less maritime-based
Contending states must recognize their joint Myanmar and Cambodia and landlocked Lao
responsibility for the protection of the PDR rely on the sea for national income.
transnational environment.
Naturally, many issues confronting the Asean
For the rich in marine and mineral resources but have a maritime dimension. Among these are
object of overlapping ownership claims Spratly piracy, smuggling, human trafficking, illegal
islands group, some arguments favor fishing and territorial security. These issues
cooperation to preserve/conserve the ecological brought to fore the unequal levels of naval
wealth of the area rather than tackling head-on capabilities in the region. Singapore has the
the sovereignty issue. In this regard, serious most sophisticated navy especially at maritime
thought should be given to the long-standing surveillance and modern war-fighting
suggestion for an ASEAN Area of Cooperation capability. The other countries are only capable
in the Spratlys as well as the possibilities for the of operating within their own coastlines.
designation of an internationally protected area
status, i.e. Marine Peace Park, through Naval cooperation, however, is present under
multilateral cooperative options available. bilateral and sub-regional arrangements. It
These could further elaboration of confidence consists of coordinated patrols and combined
and security building measures in both the exercises like the Malacca Strait Patrols among
military and civilian sectors by the adoption of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to counter
less offensive military postures in defense of piracy and armed robbery at sea. There are also
the environment. combined multi-national exercises to improve
professionalism, develop exchange experiences
The removal of confrontation between states is and draw lessons from fellow navies. Examples
an important precondition for the removal of are the Indonesia-Singapore, Malaysia-
confrontation between humankind and the Singapore and Malaysia-Thailand bilateral
natural environment considering the naval exercises. In addition, some Asean
fundamental necessity of securing the long- countries maintain defence engagement
term availability of natural resources. activities/exercises with the US, UK, Australia
and New Zealand. The on-going annual joint
The pursuit of environmental security could Philippines-US military maneuvers called
become a major agent of change in international Balikatan 2014 is not only about maritime
affairs, promoting an international order more security but humanitarian assistance and
compatible with human needs. Common disaster response as well possibly on account of
sovereignty over natural resources should be the experience last year of Asean member
recognized and given priority in the resolution countries coming to the rescue and relief of
of conflicts and hostilities among States. Typhoon Yolanda victims in the Philippines
later than expected.
*Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as
Coordinator of UNEPs Coordinating Body for Be that as it may, IHS Jane’s Defence
the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA). International, a leading provider of defence and
security insight and information, mentioned in
Asean: Waves of naval expectations one of its reports the Asean resolve to take
1 greater responsibility for their own maritime
security. This is evidenced by, among others,

the Philippine Navy’s modernization plan defence industrial complex; and collaborative
which includes acquisition of two new anti- defence research and development. In all this,
submarine helicopters, two frigates and four there is a strong imperative for more efficiency,
patrol frigates along with a number of patrol more coordination and more cooperation
craft and fast transport and support vessels. among the Asean navies to create the assurance
Also included are multi-purpose attack crafts about the region’s self-defence readiness.
with missile launch capabilities to patrol its FROM THE PHILIPPINE AMBASSADORS’
territorial waters. Myanmar has acquired eight FOUNDATION INC. (PAFI)
Chinese frigates under its development of naval
industrial capabilities program in conjunction Mr. Tolentino is a professor and diplomat who
with China . Vietnam is acquiring submarines also does freelance journalism. His special
from Russia. The first boat Hanoi was already interests are climate justice and
handed to the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy environmental diplomacy.
and a second one Ho Chi Minh City is on track
for delivery.

Singapore has much significantly improved

capabilities through deliveries of Swedish and
German-made submarines and patrol vessels. It
also announced a 2014 defense budget of $9.93
billion, a 3.2 percent increase over spending in
2013. (It should also be mentioned that
Singapore has the region’s only submarine
rescue capacity).

In Brunei Darussalam, the arrival of German-

made off-shore patrol vessels considerably
enhanced the navy’s operational capabilities.
To improve training, the navy is building a
centre of excellence, due to become operational
in 2015, for seamanship warfare, weapons
handling, firefighting and damage control,
communications and engineering training.
Indonesia, on the other hand, is constructing a
submarine base in Sulawesi Island and plans to
procure up to 12 boats to augment its submarine
force. It also announced it would purchase
submarines from South Korea. Submarines,
after all, are the most cost effective way of
denying maritime territory to a hostile armada.
In fact, not every navy requires an ocean-going
submarine. Asean waters are mostly
archipelagic and shallow. Littoral patrol
submarines will do to conduct intelligence
gathering, act as a deterrent against maritime
incursions and bolster confidence.

However, a lot still has to be done. Among

these are a review of each state’s
responsiveness to defend itself against any and
all threats to national security; effective
capability pooling; development of an Asean

Asean sea region Sea of
constraint or sea of After 25 years, the situation has worsened,
environmental cooperation brought about by China’s assertion of
0 ownership of almost all of the resource-rich
BY AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR. ON MARCH waters of the South China Sea despite rival
11, 2017 claims from Asian countries. Time and again,
IN 1974, the United Nations Environment China has reiterated its “indisputable
Program (UNEP) spearheaded a Regional Seas sovereignty” claim over the Spratly islands and
Program. It is an effort to involve countries its adjacent waters. It is even of the view that
bordering the seas to meet the challenges of freedom of navigation and overflight for
environmental degradation in the sea, coastal military aircraft does not apply to the South
area and inland, and to link sustainable marine China Sea because of its claimed ownership of
resource management with development. To the area.
that end, an action plan and legal framework are
expected to be built up. The US does not recognize China’s claim. Its
military aircraft have repeatedly flown over,
For Southeast Asia, the regional seas identified and its ships repeatedly sailed in, the South
for the purpose of the program was the “East China Sea, passing through islets where China
Asian Seas,” referring to the Asean seas in the has built runways and set up military outposts.
South China Sea. | Clearly, the US is out to assert its right to
navigation in the South China Sea through
UNEP’s role is not only as a funding agency but which thousands of commercial vessels pass
to coordinate activities, ensuring an integrated carrying some $5 trillion worth of goods a year.
approach and taking care that the The US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, with
interdisciplinary character of environmental its supporting ships and planes, has moved into
problems is not neglected. At the same time, the area. Sovereignty and freedom of
environmental law (national legislation and navigation are about to clash in the South China
bilateral, regional and global agreements) was Sea.
thought of to provide a firm commitment from
States to maintain the environmental quality of Actually, the South China Sea serves as a
the shared seas. Efforts to achieve this may constraint on naval and maritime cooperation in
include the promotion of harmonization of Southeast Asia. Differences over threat
national legislations, the encouragement of the perceptions relative to China have been at the
adoption of regional agreements to foster root of increasing Asean disunity on security
cooperation as well as in the implementation of issues. Enmity between Cambodia and the
existing international agreements. Philippines at the 2012 Asean Ministerial
Meeting in Phnom Penh was emblematic of a
Sadly, while numerous inter-governmental deeper emerging divide between continental
meetings resulted in the adoption by the Asean and maritime states comprising Asean.
member countries at the time (Indonesia, In this regard, Cambodia is generally oriented
Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand) towards China, with Vietnam being the major
of an Action Plan for the Protection and exception. The situation limits Asean solidarity
Development of the Marine Environment and with respect to territorial claimants in the South
Coastal Areas of the East Asian Seas Region, it China Sea.
became evident by 1990 that the adoption of a
legal framework (draft Convention for the Clearly, the four Asean claimants to the
Protection and Development of the Marine and disputed island territory in the South China Sea
Coastal Areas of the East Asian Seas Region) (Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines,
would not materialize due to, among others, Vietnam, which are all claimants with China
overlaps of competing claims of some Asian and Taiwan) are also divided among themselves
countries in the Spratly islands area of the South such that none has recognized the sovereignty
China Sea. claims of the others in the region. Add to that
the aggravating territorial dispute over Sabah

between Malaysia and the Philippines which further the elaboration of confidence- and
spilled into a violent incursion in 2013. security-building measures in both the military
and civilian sectors by the adoption of less
The situation described above further limits the offensive military postures in defense of the
opportunity for Asean claimants to agree on environment.
common positions vis-à-vis the South China
Sea. Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as
Coordinator, UNEPs Coordinating Body for the
Be that as it may, the South China Sea also has Seas of East Asia (COBSEA). He is currently
some unifying potential within Asean. For one, the national focal point of the International
the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Center for Comparative Environmental Law
stipulates that littoral states around semi- (Limoges, France) which enjoys special
enclosed seas should cooperate on natural consultative status with the United Nations
resource conservation and environmental Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC).
protection. In this, the Gulf of Thailand littoral
states have been successful in setting aside
boundary disputes to pursue joint development.
Cambodia and Thailand manifested sincere
cooperation despite tensions over their disputed
land territory near the Preah Vihar temple
complex (ultimately decided by the
International Court of Justice in favor of
Cambodia). Likewise, Vietnam and Malaysia’s
joint submission of their extended continental
shelf claim to the relevant UN committee in
2009, demonstrate oneness between Asean

Asean’s effectiveness as a vehicle for

cooperation will eventually be tested by the
progress in concluding a legally binding Code
of Conduct with China over the South China
Sea. The 2002 Asean Declaration on a Code of
Conduct with China was non-binding and
ultimately failed to reduce tensions over the
disputed sea. At this point, it is not clear if the
Code of Conduct’s terms will improve on those
of the Declaration or if it will restrain the rival
claimants’ activities in the region. Nor is it clear
how the desired legally binding Code will be
Be that as it may, for the Spratly island group,
rich in marine and mineral resources but the
object of overlapping ownership claims, there is
the argument in favor of cooperation to
preserve/conserve the ecological wealth of the
area. In this connection, it is time that serious
thought be given to the longstanding
recommendation for an Asean Area of
Cooperation in the Spratlys as well as the
possibilities for the designation of an
internationally protected area status, i.e.
International Marine Peace Park, through
multilateral options available. These could